While there have been initial doubts about whether or not the Nintendo Switch could handle “bigger” games, teams like Panic Button and Virtuos have wiped that away with favorites like Doom, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Dark Souls Remastered. These games run like a dream on the platform. That said, however, there is some evidence that the system can’t handle everything — and ARK: Survival Evolved is the proof.
That’s not to say the system couldn’t handle a good open-world survival adventure. In just a few days, we’ll see what Campo Santo can do with Firewatch on the platform. But ARK is a little too much for its own good, letting you wander across an open world as you survive against the odds- in this case, much bigger creatures that could easily make a meal out of you. The game does have open space going for it and it also allows players to adapt at their own pace with weapon creation and other goods to get through this savage land.
ARK has a novel approach which in turn has helped it grow a substantial audience on other platforms. However, the Switch version is probably the least technically proficient out there. For a majority of the time, it seems to run like it’s in beta mode, with objects that vanish from the environment, missing animations, and slowdown issues that drop it from 30 frames per second to around five. And this is just from doing something as simple as walking around.
And even after downloading the latest patch for the game just days following its release, its performance still isn’t up to snuff. The teams at War Drum Studios and Snail Games have a long way to go. Even if they did manage to get it up to speed, there’s a fair to strong chance that other issues would pop up.
As if that wouldn’t test the patience of the player enough. ARK clearly isn’t a game for everyone. It’s not built upon the idea of traditional first-person shooters. True, you are in first-person, but you need to be patient with this one. And I mean very patient. Get into a fistfight with a stronger opponent and you’re likely to die quick. Even the elements themselves can leave an effect on you — bundle up when you’re cold or you will pay for it.
If you stick with it, you can adapt to the environment and learn to create things, like a base to call your home (until something destroys it, of course) and weapons. But just realize that death is going to come often in this game- perhaps even more than Dark Souls. (That was certainly the case with me.)
But you’ll learn and eventually get better, building up XP and opening up the kind of skill traits and engrams to really get true progress going. The more you build, the more tools you’ll have access to — and the more of a badass you’ll become. That is, if you have the patience to endure both the high level of difficulty and the technical setbacks.
Building later items within the game are pretty cool; and being able to hook up with others online can be a joy, especially if you’ve got a group of fellow survivors to work with. Always more fun with friends, I say. Sure, you’ll have to wait a bit for online connectivity (just as you would with the game’s horrendously long loading times), but get a good clan together and you can really get things done in both PvP and PvE, depending on your preference.
But, again, there’s a lot ARK asks of you with its technical mess-ups, which can be a chore on newcomers and rookies. In handheld format, ARK barely runs at regular momentum, with stuttering frame rates and missing details popping up all the time. The docked version is slightly better in visual quality, but makes some of these glitches even more evident.
What’s more, there are times when the sound is warped, with your character saying something half a second after you do it. The atmospheric effects are okay, particularly with headphones; and the small pieces of music are perfectly fitted with the survival theme. I just wish there was more of it.
Out of all the versions of ARK that are available, the Nintendo Switch one is the weakest by far. This system just can’t handle the work of two development teams, because it’s such an immense world. In the hands of Panic Button or Virtuos, this port maybe could’ve gone better.
As it stands, it’s a hard experience to recommend. It definitely has everything packed in there, but you have to overcome so much just to accomplish anything, both with the game and its technical failures. The real question here is if this level of survival is worth it. To some, maybe. To others, I recommend a far more polished experience. Wolfenstein II, perhaps? It’s not as big, but you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
WWG’s Score: 2 out of 5.
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.